Ever been afraid of a horse? No? I don’t believe you. Fear is a pretty natural response, especially if your feet can’t touch the ground. It’s common sense, horses are big. They have twice as many legs. Horses have a fear/flight response, and after a certain age, so do we. (Read this, about fear and confidence.)

If you rode as a kid, ignorance was bliss. It helped to bounce well, believe in magic, and love horses more than Christmas. Fear existed then, it just had a high-pitched, whiny voice that no one listened to.

But now gravity is not as forgiving. There are people and animals that depend on you. Maturity is a little more complicated than running your horse under a tree limb to dismount like Tarzan.

Fear is natural, what we do with our fear is the question. Some of us worship it. Some of us hide it like a selfish treasure. Some of us grow it like hay for horses. And for some of us, the fear of not riding is even scarier, so we make a meal of fear.

Here’s my recipe: First you have to catch Fear, he likes to hide in the dark and breed more fear. Pretty soon there’s a whole litter of slimy little fear-babies scurrying around. Reach around in that dark place and drag out the biggest Fear you can find. Grab him by the hind legs and hold on, he’s slippery. He’ll put up a fight, trying to be bigger than he is, but it’s all feathers and spit. Drag him into broad daylight and smile at him, snout to snout. He looks smaller already, doesn’t he? Put Fear in a crock-pot on low, and leave him in the kitchen.

Then go to the barn, and get out every curry you have. Turn on some slow music and groom your horse forever. When it’s late and you finally get back home, remember that good horsewomen steer clear of kitchens.

The next day, do some ground work, think Liberty, for both of you. Be the one to start trusting first, he wants less fear, too. Let your ground work swirl around the two of you like a waltz, a jitterbug, a tango. Remember that your love is bigger than fear.

“You are not working on the horse, you are working on yourself…”  Ray Hunt

When you are ready to ride, go into the kitchen and pull your cooked Fear out of the crock-pot. Put it on a pretty plate and get a sharp knife. Take a look: diminished and overcooked as my mother’s gray roast. But the fear is still recognizable: gristly self-doubt, tough old hurts, dried up limitations begrudgingly agreed to. You could yell Charge! and call upon all your cowgirl patron saints to help you wage war.

Or you could cut off one bite-sized piece. Not the worst piece, just the first piece. Maybe you aren’t comfortable out of the arena. So you take that small piece, season it with courage, and start chewing. Let Fear remind you to wear a helmet and once you’re mounted and warmed up, open the gate. You don’t have to ride down to the equator and back, you can walk a circle outside the arena to start. One step at a time, you don’t have to be perfect. Swallow that chewed-up piece of fear, and wash it down with a sense of humor. Can you say masticated?

Take the next bite-sized piece; if it’s tough, cut it in two and give half to a trainer to work on with you. Some days fast on the sweetness of the journey, and remember where you started. Congratulate your horse for his kind patience, and for every year over 50 that you are, score a double co-efficient. (Dressage words for really important.)

In no time at all, the plate is empty and a wonderful thing happens. You don’t feel full at all. As a matter of fact you have room for dessert! Pick something that’s rich and sweet, thick with calories that are good for you, like trust in the eye of your horse or a partnership that holds you safe and cherished.

Eat all you want, you won’t get fat… just rich and sweet.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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Comment by Julie Anne Wright on May 28, 2013 at 7:23am

Great article resonated with me very deeply thankyou so much for publishing this I am going to share as I know there are others who would Im certain greatly benefit from your poignant writing the more truthful we are about ourselves the richer our healing will be and the more we can help another Julie Wright of Divine Dressage 

Comment by Anna Blake on May 24, 2013 at 11:13am

Jackie, great comment. I think that MS is helped too, even stirs the opposite. Good for you.

Comment by Jackie Cochran on May 24, 2013 at 10:48am

Even after 40 some years of riding fear came back as my MS got worse and worse.  I still feel fear (not panic) quite often, especially getting up on a horse I've never ridden before.

But through these years I've learned that horses admire courage.  Even if you are shaking in your boots they will acknowledge your courage in riding in spite of the fear--as long as you do not hurt the horse through your fear.  One time, with a super sensitive Arab gelding, when my riding teacher decided I was the ideal trail ride partner for her getting a horse used to the outside, I stood there full of fear when she told me we were going out.  Then the gelding (who I had ridden twice?) looked at me and "told" me that he would take care of me.  And he did when the rein fell off the bit (my fault), when I got off and fixed it, when I got back on, and all through the trail ride.

I still feel fear just about each time I ride.  I just basically tell the fear "so what" and get on and ride. 

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